The Neon Demon – A Movie Review

I have to admit that I’ve noticed this film on Amazon Prime Video for several years and it always piqued my curiosity. I recently read an article touting it as a hidden gem among the Amazon library, and so I finally decided to give it a watch.

The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning as a sixteen-year-old model who comes to LA and instantly gets noticed. Her simple, natural beauty wins over photographers and fashion icons alike. Jenna Malone plays Ruby, a make-up artist who says she wants to watch out for Fanning’s character, Jesse, but seems to also sometimes put Jesse in precarious positions. Keanu Reeves plays a man who runs the cheap motel Jesse stays in, and his intent is obviously nefarious from the beginning. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote play perfect models who are apparently friends with Ruby and insanely jealous of Jesse.

As the movie progresses, Jesse says and does things that make it appear as though she may be far more than she seems. At times the movie leads the audience to believe she undergoes entire personality shifts and, in fact, may be the very demon the title suggests. She regularly claims to be dangerous despite her mousy, wide-eyed disposition.

This goes on for the first three-quarters of the film. It is slow, visually striking, stiffly acted by otherwise talented actors, and more than a bit disjointed. And then the last quarter of the movie unfolds. The last act is gory, disturbing, twisted, and surprising. I appreciate that this sudden turn of events was indeed hinted at throughout the film, but I found Jesse’s ultimate fate disappointing because it struck me as inconsistent with the rest of the film in regards to her character.

I’m afraid I cannot recommend The Neon Demon to the casual viewer. It’s not particularly enjoyable, entertaining, or thrilling. I could see film students or movie experts appreciating some of the stylistic choices made by the film, however.

The Tomorrow War – A Movie Review

I honestly had no idea what to expect from The Tomorrow War. Chris Pratt is always a little hit or miss with me. I love Sam Richardson, but I’ve only seen him in funny movies. I also love J.K. Simmons. I only knew Betty Gilpin from GLOW, a dramedy. I’d never heard of Yvonne Strahovski. The director, Chris McKay, sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place his name.

Anyway, I figured what the heck. The trailer showed time travel and monsters, so that’s really all it took for me to give it a shot. (In addition to Sam Richardson, of course.)

Though The Tomorrow War is FAR from perfect, I still very much enjoyed it.

The premise is that soldiers from the future come to the present in order to recruit ordinary citizens to fight aliens back in the future. They’ve literally run out of people, so now they are drafting those from our era in order to keep fighting. Chris Pratt, a science teacher and former combat soldier, is one such draftee. He must leave behind his little daughter and loving wife in order to save the future, and none of them believe they’ll ever see each other again.

Once Pratt’s character arrives in the future, things get both visually spectacular and a little hard to accept. On the one hand, the special effects look amazing with horrifyingly beautiful aliens. On the other, I simply could not believe that a platoon of regular men and women from 2021 would be able to fire an automatic weapon, much less operate as a cohesive unit. After all, they had virtually no training and still wore their street clothes.

However, after that initial hiccup, the movie took some very interesting twists and turns. Yes, The Tomorrow War is part comedy, part sci-fi action film, part drama, part horror movie, part war flick, part family saga, and part social commentary, but it’s ALL entertaining. Really, in the end, isn’t that what you want?

By the way–Chris McKay? He directed The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. Things are making more sense now, right?

Truthfully, The Tomorrow War triggered far more emotions that I anticipated. I don’t care for Chris Pratt as a sex symbol, but I really liked him as a dad just trying to do the right thing. I also found the dynamic between J.K. Simmons and Chris Pratt quite interesting. And, as you know, Sam Richardson owned every scene that featured him. Unfortunately, Betty Gilpin found herself underutilized. If you want to see her full range, check out GLOW.

Furthermore, I mentioned that I didn’t know Yvonne Strahovski. She ends up doing a LOT of emotional work in this film, and she pulled it off well. I still don’t know where she came from, but I think she’s got a solid future in acting ahead of her. (UPDATE: I’ve since realized that she is Serena Joy Waterford from The Handmaid’s Tale. No wonder she’s so good! Obviously, she’s already had a very successful career and will continue to do so.)

The Tomorrow War is literally all over the place. Yet, I have to say that it delivered a fairly tightknit story that, as far as these kinds of stories go, mostly made sense. Obviously, when time travel is involved, nothing makes sense, but you know what I mean.

One more thing–The Tomorrow War looks great. The effects are amazing, the aliens appear grounded in reality, and the cinematography is visually striking. Sometimes these heavy effects movies don’t quite look right on the small screen, but not so with The Tomorrow War. Amazon got it just right for our living rooms.

If you like action movies, Chris Pratt, time travel stories, J.K. Simmons, special effects, or monster movies, I think you’ll get a kick out of The Tomorrow War. If nothing else, just watch it for Sam Richardson.

Army Of the Dead – A Movie Review

As far as zombie movies set in Las Vegas go, Army Of the Dead was more than entertaining.

I can’t claim this film was cinematic genius. I can’t argue it shifted the paradigm regarding zombies. I can’t even say it was the best zombie movie out there.

However, I can truthfully proclaim that, if you’re looking to sit around with a few friends and enjoy a popcorn action flick, Army Of the Dead won’t disappoint.

Yes, some of it didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t completely consistent in terms of tone. Much of it felt like it was setting up prequels or sequels. But, hey, the special effects were fantastic, the action satisfied, and seeing Las Vegas as a quarantined apocalyptic ruin filled with ravenous, undead cannibals proved a feast for the eyes.

And there’s no denying the stars had real charisma. Dave Bautista, believe it or not, really is a pretty decent actor, and a master thespian by action movie standards. There’s a reason big-time directors are casting him in their movies. Omari Hardwick, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ella Purnell, Raúl Castillo, and Ana de la Reguera all had a ton of charm. Of course, Tig Notaro delighted even if she did typically look like she was digitally inserted into the movie–because she was. In the end, this cast was simply a blast to watch.

You can perhaps argue that the director, Zack Snyder, was trying to comment on the greed of modern-day America. Maybe he was trying to say something about the inhumane treatment of detainees. He could even have been ripping on our politicians. But I don’t think any of that was the case. I think Zack Snyder just wanted to make a frenetic zombie movie that could entertain for two and a half hours, and, on that note, he most definitely succeeded.

Tenet – A Movie Review

I wish I could say to you that Tenet is an intellectual masterpiece, that Christopher Nolan has broken with cinematic convention to such a degree that he has essentially reinvented the medium, and that the story is so complex it works as the equivalent of a Russian doll.

I wish I could say all of that, but I can’t.

Tenet is a confusing mess of a plot with wooden dialogue and an obvious atmosphere of overinflated self-importance. From the minute it started to the minute it ended, I didn’t quite know what was going on, nor did I particularly care.

You could argue that I simply didn’t get it. Maybe I’m not smart enough to decipher the enigma of Christopher Nolan’s work. I don’t think that’s the case, though. I don’t believe Tenet was conceived or written particularly well.

However, there were some highpoints. John David Washington is very charismatic. Though he seemed stiff and restrained throughout the film and had truly awful dialogue, he still emitted an undeniable quality of stardom. Robert Pattinson, believe it or not, is absolutely a good actor and fun to watch. Elizabeth Debicki also had terrible dialogue to work with and little to do in the film, but the six foot, three inch actress also displayed charisma.

In truth, even if Nolan’s plots don’t always click for me, the direction and cinematic quality typically win me over. This was not the case with Tenet. It didn’t look especially beautiful, the shots were not awe-inspiring, and even the angles struck me as rather mundane.

There’s no denying that Christopher Nolan normally makes good movies worthy of praise, but, in my opinion, he missed the mark with Tenet.

Godzilla vs. Kong – A Movie Review

It’s all in the title, right?

Let’s start with the positives–the special effects in Godzilla vs. Kong are spectacular. You see every hair on Kong’s body, every scale on Godzilla’s face. It really is very impressive.

Also, when the two behemoths clash, it is epic. The falling buildings, the crashing waves, the displaced earth–they’ve got the physics of their brawling down pretty well.

Furthermore, the actors–respectable names like Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, and three minutes of Kyle Chandler–they’re trying. They’re trying. So. Hard.

And the director, Adam Wingard, he’s doing his best. He really is. The movie looks great. The actors are obviously giving it their all. I think he’s got everyone motivated, he’s got the film appearing exquisite, and he’s got the technical people overachieving.

But, despite all of those positives, the movie is just dumb.

There’s no other way to put it.

I wish they would stop trying to insert human stories into monster fight movies. I wish they would stop trying to humanize monsters. I wish they would stop trying to force motivation upon the monsters.

Here’s my monster fight movie–monster’s fight for 75 to 90 minutes. Multimedia news reports are spliced in to provide context. Done. Everyone is happy.

Godzilla vs. Kong has a lot going for it. It’s a fun, entertaining spectacle with sublime special effects (even on the “small” screen through HBO Max). But there’s a lot about this movie that just plain doesn’t make any sense at all, no matter how suspended the disbelief.

Emma. – A Movie Review

After truly enjoying Little Women with my wife and daughters, I thought Emma. might be another hit with the family. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we never quite got around to watching it. My wife and I noticed that it was now available on HBO MAX, so at around ten o’clock at night, after the kids were in bed, we decided to give it a shot.

Let me quickly note that I have never read the book nor have I seen any previous film adaptation of the source material. The previews made it look bright, cheerful, amusing, and pretty. With a PG rating, I thought it would be perfect. We figured we’d preview it for an hour to be sure it was family friendly, then restart it with the kids the next day.

Let me be frank–I was bored. So. Bored. I didn’t find Emma. charming, amusing, or cheerful. However, it was definitely bright and very, very pretty. More on that in a moment.

Emma is a handsome, clever, and rich young woman who is surprisingly unlikable in this film. Is she equally unlikable in the book? I don’t know. As I said–I haven’t read it. She’s supposed to be a matchmaker, yet I found her motivations selfish, contemptable, and ill-intentioned.

Furthermore, in the end, she was rewarded for her bad behavior, which I found troublesome.

So, as you can tell, the story did nothing for me.

However, there’s no denying that Emma. is a beautiful film. The colors are bold and bright. The costumes are magnificent. The scenery is exquisite. It’s shot very well and it looks great.

My wife and I ended up watching the entire film, which kept us awake past midnight, so there must have been something engaging about it.

Even with that being said, I’m afraid I can’t recommend Emma.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

As I said with my original Justice League review, I’m going to like a Justice League movie no matter what. I’ve loved these particular characters since I was a small child reading comic books and watching Super Friends.

But, even with that stated, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a vastly superior version of what came out in 2017. Allow me to elaborate.

As you know, Zack Snyder had to step away from Justice League due to the tragic suicide of his daughter, Autumn. Warner Brothers brought in Joss Whedon, who had obviously enjoyed great success with the MCU, to take over directing duties. Whedon made significant changes to Snyder’s version, and, because the studio wanted Justice League to come in under two hours, a very different movie released from what was originally intended.

I am not a Zack Snyder acolyte, but I personally believe he is unfairly mocked. I believe he has a specific vision with his movies, a particular style, and an unmatched kinetic energy. With Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, people wanted him to copy MCU. Zack Snyder is never going to do anything but what he wants to do. Whether you like him or not, he seems to be loyal to his own artistic sensibilities. He had a take on Batman and Superman, and he stuck with it.

As a result, Zack Snyder’s Justice League felt incredibly satisfying. This Justice League, unlike its predecessor, is truly a continuation of the story that came before. This is the same Wonder Woman, the same Batman, the same Martha Kent, the same Lois Lane, and a continuously evolving Superman.

We get to see Batman organically tackle the ramifications of Batman v Superman. We get to witness Lois and Martha grieve the loss of Clark Kent. We get to see Wonder Woman truly try to reenter the world. And we get to bear witness to the hero’s journey of Superman.

Furthermore, Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg are now fully realized characters. The hokey jokes are gone. The bad one-liners have been erased. Instead, we get rounded characters given room to breathe. Rumors existed that Cyborg was the true star of Justice League before Whedon’s involvement, and I would say that this is true. The Flash is even more endearing than in the 2017 version, and far more interesting. And Jason Momoa, who plays Aquaman, shows off some real acting skills now that he’s not been reduced to a surfer barbarian dude.

Of course, among the biggest differences are the cosmetic changes to Steppenwolf and the inclusion of Darkseid. Steppenwolf now looks very, very cool and seeing Darkseid on screen in such a terrifying role is, frankly, awesome. Steppenwolf is clearly obedient to Darkseid, even fearful of Darkseid, and so his motivation is much different, much easier to understand, and much better. Steppenwolf is a threat to the entire planet, and our heroes treat him as such. This is not a cartoon. This is war.

In fact, the whole story just makes a LOT more sense. From the ancient attack involving Greek Gods, Amazons, and Atlanteans to the whole reason they bring Superman back from the dead (and how they do it), the movie simply takes time to allow characters to explain, to interact, and to experience. As a result, the audience is given time to understand.

Though the movie is four hours long, it flew by for me. I’m a DC fan and I enjoy Snyder’s take on DC characters, so your opinion regarding the film’s length may vary from mine. Knowing that this is likely Snyder’s last foray into the DC Universe, I truly savored every minute of this movie.

I must admit that it was bittersweet, however. Zack Snyder’s Justice League has an epilogue that will leave you salivating for more. Snyder is on record as saying he intended his Justice League to be a trilogy. He shows us quite a bit of what could have happened in those two subsequent films. It’s a shame we probably won’t ever see them made.

Finally, and though this could perhaps be considered a spoiler, he ended the movie with a simple: “For Autumn.” I won’t lie–that unassuming dedication nearly brought me to tears. In a way, I imagine the release of this movie is a sort of closure for Snyder regarding his daughter’s death. There will obviously forever be a hole in his heart due to the loss, but the fact that his daughter’s death and Justice League are inexorably linked is undeniable. I think it was brave of him to share that with the world.

The Midnight Sky – A Movie Review

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Midnight Sky when I saw its title card appear on Netflix. The description and trailer didn’t totally captivate me, but they didn’t repel me, either.

In the end, I watched it because I generally like George Clooney and because I enjoy “realistic” science fiction movies about space travel–recent films like Moon, Interstellar, Arrival, The Martian, and Ad Astra immediately spring to mind.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the year is around 2049, a global catastrophe has occurred, and George Clooney’s character is one of Earth’s last survivors as he manages an observation station in the far north. He has taken it up on himself to try to contact a space crew returning from Jupiter in order to deter them from entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The good news is that I only intended to watch an hour of the movie before going to bed and, instead, I ended up watching the whole thing while staying up far too late. It is an interesting, exciting film that keeps the audience guessing and holds them in a constant state of anticipation.

I also appreciated that it suggested horrible tragedy and violence in many cases without actually showing anything terribly gory.

My primary issue with The Midnight Sky, however, is that I felt as though I’d seen bits and pieces of this movie in several other films. The Road seemed to be a heavy influence, as did those other science fiction movies I already mentioned, especially The Martian. It was made very well, it had great pacing, and it looked good, yet none of it struck me as original. Finally, George Clooney, who has made a career off of his charm, displayed none of that natural charisma. That–coupled with the David Letterman beard–made for a pretty dour character.

The Midnight Sky is fine. It’s not bad–not by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it kept me up an hour more than I intended. It’s a perfectly acceptable, enjoyable science fiction movie. But it’s also not necessarily a unique experience that will make you feel like you’ve seen something new.

Wonder Woman: 1984 – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

Let me start by saying that I adore the first Wonder Woman film. That moment when Wonder Woman climbs out of the trenches and crosses No Man’s Land … I think it will forevermore be one of the most iconic cinematic scenes in movie history. Furthermore, it had a tight storyline, introduced the entire world and culture of Themyscira, and provided a potent moment in history with World War I. True, the final battle with the prerequisite big bad left something to be desired, but otherwise the movie proved a total success. It had heart, humor, and a real soul.

1984 has … some … of those things … at times.

I’m afraid Wonder Woman: 1984 fell a little flat with me.

The good news is that there’s a lot to like about Wonder Woman: 1984. Kristen Wiig totally sold me as Barbara Minerva. Furthermore, I think we all need to give Wiig huge respect for filming an intense action movie at forty-five years of age. She looks amazing and we get to see her as the superstar she’s always been.

Gal Gadot, as usual, oozes charisma and her chemistry with Chris Pine is as sharp as ever.

The opening scene featuring the Amazons during Diana’s childhood is superb. I’ve heard rumors they are making a spinoff film focusing upon the Amazons and I think that’s a very wise decision. I just pray they continue to include Robin Wright and Connie Nielson.

Also, the final scene of the movie, particularly in how it relates to Barbara Minerva, is wonderful. They fixed everything that disappointed me about the final scene in the first film.

Unfortunately, though they got the ending right in Wonder Woman: 1984, I fear they missed several steps getting there. My major issue with the film centers around its central premise. I won’t spoil it for you, but it explains how Chris Pine’s dead character returns and how Barbara Minerva undergoes a certain change. Look, I know we’re dealing with fantasy, but after such a relatively grounded first film deeply rooted in the horrors or World War I, 1984’s premise seemed rather silly. Sadly, that premise never led anywhere more complex than its most basic concept. The story, as a whole, just didn’t work for me.

I’m also afraid that the special effects simply didn’t hold up to the first film. Diana is now using her magic lasso much like Tarzan uses vines or Spider-Man uses webs. I kept finding myself getting distracted by the physics of the lasso and how Diana swinging about didn’t ever look natural. The lasso seemed to appear and disappear at will and didn’t adhere to any certain length or rigidity. Simply put, it didn’t look good.

Finally, Wonder Woman: 1984 struck me as a series of vignettes rather than a complete story. The opening scene on Themyscira is so beautiful, but ultimately unnecessary to the overall story. Most of Chris Pine’s scenes are there for comedic effect and could have been left on the cutting room floor. Diana experiences some new revelations about her abilities that are, honestly, unnecessary to the story as well and rather contradictory to what we’ve seen from her in Batman v Superman and Justice League. Finally, the incredible moment in the trailer when Wonder Woman lassos lightening? Total letdown.

I really do regret to say that Wonder Woman: 1984 is not as well written as its predecessor, the special effects are not as good as its predecessor, and it’s nowhere near as substantive as its predecessor. However, I’ll keep watching Wonder Woman movies because I love the character, I love Themyscira, and I love Gal Gadot working with Patty Jenkins.

Joker – A Spoiler-Free Movie Review

Let’s first talk about what Joker is not.

Joker is not for children.

Joker is not a superhero movie.

Joker is not a super villain movie.

Joker is not funny.

Joker is not part of a shared comic book universe. 

However, Joker is a psychoanalytical movie exploring a mentally ill man who eventually comes to embrace criminality. 

I have not stopped thinking about this movie since seeing it on October 3rd. I honestly can’t remember a movie that left me so disturbed and … unsettled. 

It’s not that Joker is particularly violent–it’s not when compared to most R-rated crime films. It’s more that this movie feels so … real. Joker does not have any kind of a fantasy element. It’s absolutely rooted in reality. We watch this man slowly fall apart in a way that is completely plausible. We watch the world keep kicking him and kicking him and kicking him until he fights back, and he strikes back in a manner that is far too familiar. 

I think this is what has me so conflicted about Joker. He is a killer–that should come as no surprise. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a vigilante, he’s an average man who elects to murder people. However, throughout most of the film, he’s victimized by bullies. He’s beaten up by society. He’s shunned by the world. We feel bad for him … until we don’t. This kind of complexity is rarely executed in mainstream Hollywood.

In regards to the acting, Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing. I left the theater believing that this man may actually be insane. I don’t mean for that to sound insensitive or flippant, but his portrayal proved thoroughly convincing. His body language, his movement, his voice, his facial expressions, his laughter, the way he seemed to transform once he became “Joker” … it was unreal.

Also, the film looks to take place forty years ago. I felt like I walked into a time machine. The clothes, the cars, the props–it all looked authentic.

Furthermore, the “feel” of the movie cut to my core. This is a cramped, gritty, almost claustrophobic film. It’s literally uncomfortable to watch. It’s not a horror movie, but it certainly isn’t interested in coddling the audience.

People keep asking me if it’s a good movie. I don’t know the answer to that just yet. I’m still processing it. I can tell you that I can’t stop thinking about it. I can tell you that it left me with questions that I can’t stop trying to answer. I can tell you that it provoked me. In my opinion, those are all signs of a “good” movie, yet I can’t claim that I enjoyed Joker. It definitely wasn’t fun. This is not a movie to go see on a date or if you’re just looking to pass some time. This film takes effort to watch. 

On the other hand, though, Joker will certainly change the industry. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and I believe it will strike a chord with audiences which will result in massive earnings. My hope is that we don’t get cheap knock-offs. I don’t want a Two-Face or Killer Croc movie made in the same style as Joker. I don’t want a sudden deluge of intense, psycho-dramas featuring comic book villains. Joker is a perfect storm created by unique talent. Let’s try not to replicate it. 

Believe it or not, Joker is a complicated movie that elicits complex thoughts. I still don’t know if I like it, I’m still not sure if it’s “good,” but it certainly made an impression upon me.

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